“The people themselves are kind of a special breed,” photographer Dolly Faibyshev says, “as if they all come from the same puppy mill.”
In her eighth year of photographing the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Faibyshev has seen just about everything. “The dogs are primped up for the show, but the humans are too,” she tells TIME, noting the preponderance of handler’s wacky outfits that seem to echo their pooches own coats. “You start to wonder who is actually competing for Best In Show, is it the animals or humans?”
Faibyshev’s photographs of the storied competition encapsulate that very question.
Follow @timelightbox on Instagram on Feb. 15-16 for this year's dog show with Dolly Faibyshev.
The self-taught photographer saw the competition on television and decided she’d like to photograph it, using the annual event to cultivate her style. Making playful, bold images was an acute departure from her previous avocation, putting her studies in international relations and economics to work in the finance industry, from banking to international pricing for a large corporation before making the leap into publishing.
"I realized that I wanted to do something more creative" Faibyshev says, "and just started trying different things. And photography clicked."
For her work, she uses a simple lighting set-up, relying on natural light or an on-camera flash. The resulting images pop with vibrant colors and tense compositions, presenting a whimsical scene of humanlike dogs and dog-like humans. When she started out, Faibyshev didn’t know what she was looking for, showing up as an outsider and photographing whatever caught her eye. Her annual tryst with the world of Westminster reads like a diary of dog ownership of the most intense kind. “I love the weird Americana of it, and I often look for the like relationship between the handler and the dog because I think it's really funny that the handler is very stressed during the whole situation and the competition, and the dog is just there, doesn't really know what it's doing there, is being primped like a doll. So I like that juxtaposition.”
When asked about how to position herself to capture her images, Faibyshev laughs, “Everywhere.” The photographer circumambulates the event that spans two sites in New York, catching moments as she sees them. “It really, to me, represents the joy of photography.”
Dolly Faibyshev is a freelance photographer based in New York.